The Firearms Forum banner
1 - 3 of 3 Posts

Discussion Starter · #1 ·
*Senior Chief Moderator*
Posts: 381
(12/8/01 4:33:36 am)
The divided country of Vietnam, 1968 was a war zone. It was the first combat/war
zone I had ever been in. I had served with the Navy Seabees during most of the
Korean War, but had never served a combat tour in Korea. The Seabee battalions I
had been with then were down in the Philippine Islands, shoving an entire mountain
off into the salty depths of Subic Bay and building the largest and finest airbase in
the Far East. Vietnam was a strange place. Vietnam was a strange war. The
American forces who were being sent there, were a strange contrast of loyalities,
devotion to duties, and military discipline. Society would say it was a ‘Sign of the
Times’. One thing that made it so difficult for the personnel was the set lengths of
time called ‘the tours of duty’. It seemed that each and every person was required
and obligated to serve for one (1) year, and then they would be reassigned and
rotated out of the Vietnam area of operations (VAOO). That rule was to prove a big
stumbling block for some units because many troops wanted to stay, whereby for
other personnel, it would become a mental block and much of their time and
obsessions were spent, ‘counting the days’. Many times personnel would take black
marking pens and write or draw on their items of battle gear, the information about
their rotation dates. Flak jackets and helmets were the main items for marking.
Along toward the ends of their tours of duty, the word ‘SHORTTIMER’ was coined for
that individual. Everyone tried to be as original and demonstrative as they could with
their ‘grafitti-on-the-gear’. Many times the markings were like tattooings, with figures
denoting luck or lack of luck. Death Before Dishonor was a popular comment as was
Semper Fi. There were a lot of Marines at the Dong Ha Combat Base area. Some
scribblings on the gear were lewd and demeaning about the service or perhaps a
certain ethnic group. Field commanders had originally attempted disciplining the
artists to stop their marking and the defacing of government property, but the
attitude of the troops had become, “what are you going to do about it---send me to
Vietnam”. The TET Offensive of 1968, up north in the l Corp AOO made for a terrible
duty station. The phrase body counts had become another term used extensively,
along with the acronyms of missing in action (MIA), wounded in action (WIA), and
killed in action (KIA) taking on meanings other than what you heard back in the
states on the evening newcasts. The Dong Ha Combat Base was a large, sprawling
complex. Camp Barnes, where I was stationed with a Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion (NMCB), was only one part of the widely spaced areas. Camp Barnes had
been named for a Seabee who had been killed in action the summer before up on
the demilitarized zone (DMZ)---a brutal place named for angels, Con Thien. Donnie
and I had been friends since we were those teen age boys down there in the
Philippines as we helped build the Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the ‘50’s. Donnie
was an E-8, as I now was. He had been supervising a crew up there on the DMZ
building bunkers for the Marines. Another central point there at Dong Ha was
named DELTA MED. Delta Med was about two clicks from Barnes and when the
battles raged at nearby Khe Sanh, or Hue, or most anywhere in 1st Corps AOO,
medi-choppers arrived in an almost endless procession, bringing in the battle
casualties. Delta Med was described as first echelon hosptial treatment--it was like a
giant triage (sorting) facility. There were times when the giant, twin-rotored Chinooks,
would come swooping into Delta Med from Khe Sanh or Hue, and the smells that
were driven down into Camp Barnes from the rotor wash smelled as bad as any
thing you had ever sensed. Camp Barnes had basic foward area facilites such as
mess halls, clubs, laundries, and our own sick bay staffed with regular physicians and
hospital corpsman. More than once, when we come under rocket or artillery attack,
those valiant medical personnel served us well and faithfully. There was this one time
Delta Med sent many dozens of field litters (collapsible canvas strechers) over to
Camp Barnes for repairs and renovation. A duece and a half Marine cargo truck
hauled them into Camp Barnes and dumped them off at sickbay. The bundles of
field litters were strapped together with metal bands--maybe a dozen in each
bundle. There must have been prior arrangements made, for our battalion hospital
corpsman set upon those bundles immediately. Initally there was the sorting and
clearing off of the canvas strechers. They were in a terrible condition---a horrible
sight to behold. All were blood spattered and many had items of discarded bits and
pieces on them, including some clothing items, towels, and battle dressings. Had the
weather been warm, instead of the cold weather of early spring, they surely would
have smelled worse than the coppery blood and fecal odors that permeated from
them. Our camps nearby boilerhouse had an insulated steam hose rigged, and
prior to any other repair work, all the litters were taken there and thouroughly
steamed. Those procedures were followed by dispersal to the various shops for
whatever repair needed to make the re-usable.
The reason for this story, is that one event happened that I have never forgotten over
these long years since. A flak jacket was found amongst the discarded items on the
litters. Across the fabric covered plates, on the back of the jacket, this ‘Shorttimer’
had fashioned a calendar page for February 1968. Other markings on the jacket,
and all the wear it had exhibited, surely the wearer must have done his year in hell.
He must have been a U.S. MARINE or that identification was printed boldly, and
obviously, very proudly, around the entire neckline. Where ever in the United States
the young marine had called home, he had labeled it on the breast of his
protective vest as God’s Country. There was a burned hole, having the appearance
of sharpnel damage, where he may have listed the states name. The flak jacket
had lots of other puncture damage also, and proud to say, that damage was all in
the front parts. There was not a single tear or hole in the back of the vest. The
February 1968 calendar page on the jackets back, was preserved and could be
easily seen. Each days date had been obliterated by either the scratching or
blotting out with a ball point pen or felt tip markers. The 14th of February, Valentines
Day, was circled with such a large heart that it also covered over other nearby
dates and inside that heart was scrawled in childish looking script I LOVE YOU CINDY.
There was one other date circled and noted on the jackets drawing and it was for
the 29th of February---inside that circle and again that child like scrawl, was listed,
BUG-OUT DAY. That 29th day marked, may have been for Leap Year or perhaps
some other personal meaning from the crafter of the calendar. The last date
marked off on the worn, battered, and bloodsmeared protective gear, was for the
25th of February 1968. So very impersonal, but still so very touching. The other
dicarded items from the litters, were disposed of in some fashion, however that field
protective jacket took on a certain symbolism all it’s own. It hung outside of the
boilerhouse for a little while and then it was moved over to my S-2 office. S-2 always
seemed to be a repository for confiscated enemy weapons or munitions, classified
materials found in the field and other ‘whatevers’. The discarded jacket drew many
comments hanging there in my office. Well meaning phrases such as, “poor
bastard” to others like, “what a lousy f-----g break---I hate this damned place”. There
were other times when men would look at the calendar on the jackets back and
not say a word--the silence many times was deafening yet it screamed
volumes. Sometime later in the deployment, the jacket come up missing. There
were no questions asked, or even any remarks made about it’s disappearance as I
recall. Why do you suppose I remember all these things after so long of
time---should I forget--can I ever forget even if I want to. Wilborn

*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
24,102 Posts
Of all the stories I have written this one seems to be the most mentioned back to me and asked about... How ironic would it be, if by chance, someone out there would read this story and recognize the flak jacket and the things written thereon...Just suppose that Marine had of been wounded and possibly evacuated out to the Repose...he recovered and went back to the world and Cindy....that calendar with it's markings of February 29...the mentioning on Valentine's Day and the declaration of his love for have to day dream about situations such as the scenerios I just related to you and wish it might come to pass. One time there was a letter from a person on the west coast requesting my permission to somehow place that calendar page on the back of t-shirts he did for a living...Of course I gave the man the go-ahead....had he called instead of msg'ing me, I know sadness may have been the mood set...Oh, what tangled webs we weave...Chief

*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
24,102 Posts
This close to the holiday season I rec'd a msg from someone who remembered reading this story before...seems it jogged a memory for them and the possibility of their being effected...I emphasized all the details I could recall and told them of others who had requested somewhat the same information as to who it might have been. Chief
1 - 3 of 3 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.